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Awful Fateful Irony

Here’s a letter to the Wall Street Journal:

Walter Russell Mead argues that the return of geopolitics unavoidably elevates national security and diplomatic concerns over economic ones, thus leading to more protectionism (“Geopolitics Trumps the Markets,” Oct. 30).

Given the nature of politics, Mr. Mead is likely correct. It is nevertheless worthwhile to note this awful irony: protectionism instigated in each country in order to better protect it from international hostilities itself raises the likelihood of international hostilities.

When the peoples of different nations are woven together by peaceful commerce their interests become joined. If nothing more, it’s bad business to shoot your suppliers and to lob bombs at your customers. But there is indeed more. Through unobstructed commerce people come to know each other better. Some cross-country differences in dress, life-styles, and commercial and cultural practices are reduced while those that remain become more familiar and, hence, less frightening. Civilization expands and reaches across political borders.

The greatest danger of trade restrictions designed to protect us from foreign enemies is the belligerence they fuel. Not only do such restrictions ensure that our enemies today will tomorrow still be our enemies, these restrictions also risk pushing foreigners who are today our friends into the swelling ranks of those who tomorrow are our enemies.

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA 22030


Otto Mallery, a deputy in the great Cordell Hull’s State Department, correctly said that “If soldiers are not to cross international borders, goods must do so.